Harold Pinter Pair
nytheatre.com review by Nat Cassidy
August 20, 2009
It almost goes without saying that one of the FringeNYC Festival's primary functions is as testing ground for newness: new works, new authors, new ideas, new images, new interpretations. If there's an already established script in the mix, chances are good that the Fringe production itself will be offering some radical twists on the proceedings. How then did a conventional presentation of a pair of one-acts written by already-famous, now-dead, pause-laden British playwright Harold Pinter get a slot in the country's biggest celebration of the cutting-edge and the revolutionary?
The answer's simple. Despite having been buried at the age of 78 almost nine months ago, and despite being known mainly for his work in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, Harold Pinter is still, pound for pound (no monetary pun intended), one of the English language's most uncompromising, unique, bold, theatrically progressive, and just plain fringy voices of the 20th century. And, as it's plain to see in Roadworks Production's production of Pinter Pair: The Lover and Ashes to Ashes, he's not likely to lose such relevancy in the 21st century, either.
This is an absolutely top-notch production, done with skill and aplomb. There is not a single element handled with anything other than the purest professionalism. Patrick McNulty's direction is clever, honest, and totally invisible when it needs to be. The costumes, designed by Katherine Hampton Noland, are modestly perfect (and perfectly modest). The lighting, designed by G. Ben Swope, is possibly the most beautiful and impressive lighting I've ever seen in a festival production. The music throughout, supervised by Josh Farrar, is a brilliantly banal interpolation of Beatles love songs done music-box-cum-Muzak style (the only exception being one use of Philip Glass's theme from the movie Candyman, which is oddly fitting). And Adrian Jones's sets strike the absolutely key balance between distance, space, claustrophobia, and style.
The acting, too, is superb. The cast of four—Chris Thorn, Julianna Zinkel, Allen McCullough, and Christine Marie Brown—is impenetrably solid. Each character, all seemingly variations on stiff-upper-lip, white-collar British men and women at first, comes to life in exciting, unpredictable ways. There is a definite style and rhythm to performing Pinter's works, and every actor is expertly successful.
Of course, the main star of the evening is Harold Pinter himself. The two one-acts presented here, The Lover (1962) and Ashes to Ashes (1996), are rarely performed, but utterly captivating in their Pinteritude. Indeed, the simple title of the evening, Pinter Pair, at first seems like a rather plain handle, but winds up being about as accurate as can be—besides being a pair of Pinter one-acts, the couple on display in each respective half of the evening is as quintessentially Pinter as you could imagine: bemused, droll, nuanced, desperate, and occasionally disturbing. And though Pinter was capable of much more than this evening puts forth, one really gets a sense of the spectrum across which he was able to create.
That being said, no one ever described Pinter as being a plot-driven playwright. His stories are fueled by situations and subtext, not twists and turns, so a summary of what happens in both one-acts wouldn't be of much service. Both tales involve one couple, and by each story's conclusion, you have been given a glimpse into the truly private areas of their lives: the dark, nebulous, sticky areas that we all have within us, whether we like it or not. Catch it with one audience and it could be an evening of hilarity; catch it with another and it could be bleakly depressing. It is not always easy viewing, it requires some interpretation, and if you already know Pinter is not your bag, it might not be an ideal way to spend your night. But if you've never experienced Pinter onstage before, and want to know just what is it about him that puts him alongside the more "out-there" works in the Fringe this year—
Then you should definitely check it out.